Acing your interview – part 1
JULIE CHASE | JULY 15, 2020
You made it to the interview — congratulations! If you’re like most, it took some effort to get here, so it truly is an achievement. So now what?
While there are over a trillion results when you search for “interview tips,” there are a handful that have worked for hundreds of our clients. I’d like to share these tried and true tips in two parts: this article will focus on the screen and the next article on the interview loop.
It all begins with screens
The general rule of thumb is that the bigger the company, the more screens you’ll have. For big tech companies it might look something like a sourcing recruiter, senior recruiter, hiring manager and colleague. For smaller companies, it could be just a recruiter and hiring manager.
Most screens are done by phone to reduce unconscious biases. So the advice is geared for phone calls. If you’re in need of video tips, read this article.
Here are some best practices that will help set you up for success.
- Schedule strategically: don’t take the first spot available and avoid Monday morning and Friday late afternoon. Most importantly, give yourself enough time to prep. If you don’t “pass” this screen, you don’t get to “move past go” (for all you Monopoly fans).
- Block out an ample amount of time for the screen — don’t have any meetings leading up to your call or directly afterward. You don’t want to add undue pressure or allow distractions from work.
- Leverage LinkedIn: look up the interviewer to see their background and if you have any mutual connections. Also look to see if you have 1st or 2nd degree connections at the company. Ask for a brief call to learn more about their experience and to gain intel about the company — this helps to uplevel your conversation.
- Properly prep: you don’t need to be an expert on the company, but you should be familiar with it at a high level (and more so for an interview loop).
- Time block: dedicate a couple of hours a few days to research and practice.
- Dissect the job description: copy and paste the job description into a doc. Highlight each core point and add to a clean doc. Rephrase into a question such as “What’s your experience in…” and then list your relevant experience with a couple of proof points.
- Research the company: look at their website and social channels products — read through recent blog articles and press releases. Look at their vision, mission and core values. Search for recent news articles and check out their stock price or Crunchbase for funding info.
- Make a list of thoughtful questions — don’t focus on benefits or other details that you can learn about later.
- Create a cheatsheet — a one pager with just a handful of points that you’d like to make sure you cover along with your list of thoughtful questions, salary requirements and any other important info.
- Practice your answers: say them aloud, record, listen and refine. It’s hard to do, but it’s one of the most effective exercises. Ask a friend or colleague to practice with you.
- Be an active listener: if your interviewer is a talker, never interrupt. Just listen and ask follow up questions — it’s a great way to build trust and a strong relationship.
- Answer directly: if asked if you have experience in X and you don’t, let them know you don’t and then bridge to something that is similar and/or most relevant.
- Treat the screen a 2 way street: a screen is part of the discovery process for you to determine if the role and company is the right fit for you.
A common mistake is to not prepare for the dreaded question, “What are your salary expectations?” It’s critical to have a solid number because your negotiation usually starts at whatever number you provide in this first call. Here are suggestions on how to best handle the question.
- Prepare a number or range based on data. Don’t base it on what you’re currently making (unless it’s the bigger number). Use the Glassdoor Salary tool (which gives a good ballpark number), complete a PayScale (or other compensation tool) survey to see the median and range for your role in your market. Try LinkedIn Premium to see if salary data is listed for that specific role or similar ones.
- Practice saying the number and range aloud: “My salary requirements are…” or “Based on my experience and expertise, I’m looking for…” If you’re comfortable with it, they will be too. This is especially important if your current salary is under market value. Good companies typically pay at or above market rate. So once you learn what is at market rate, say it with confidence.
- Before you give them a number, answer their question with a question: “What is the budget for this role?” or “What is the range for this role?” I’m pleasantly surprised by how many recruiters share this information first.
- Once you say your number or range, be completely silent. Wait for their response.
- Prepare responses based on the number they share. If it matches or is higher than yours, then say something like “That’s within my range,” or “That’s a good starting point.” If it’s lower, but pretty close to your number you can say something like “It’s more important to you that you find the right role and company, so you’re willing to negotiate.” Once you wow them in interviews, you will be in a better negotiating position. If the number is way too low, then ask “Is there an opportunity to come in at a higher level?” or “Is there any wiggle room?”
Here is a list of typical questions that are asked on a screen beyond the ones specific to the job description.
- Tell me about yourself: this should be a full resume walkthrough with the recruiter and higher level overview with everyone else.
- What are you leaving your company now? Or why did you leave?
- Why are you interested in this role and company?
- What makes you a good fit for the role?
- What are you looking for?
- What are your salary expectations?
- What metrics do you set and track?
- How is your performance measured?
- How do you keep everyone on the same page? Or something about your communications strategy?
- What is your leadership style?
- How do you influence others, especially cross-functional key stakeholders?
- What do you want to do long-term?
- What’s your greatest weakness / development area?
- What’s your greatest accomplishment?
- What’s the most innovative thing you’ve done?
- What makes you unique?
- What size teams are you used to managing? (people manager)
- How do you keep your team motivated? (people manager)
These questions are much easier to answer once you’ve thought through them. Answer them directly and provide proof points/examples. Be succinct, but provide enough detail. Give enough breathing room for them to ask questions. Avoid hyperbole, acronyms and jargon. Stay positive about your experiences (even challenging ones), the companies you’ve worked for, the people you’ve worked with, etc. Be honest, but reframe in a positive way.
- Print your resume and cheatsheet (use sparingly).
- Make sure you’ve blocked out a good amount of time before and after your screen.
- Reserve a quiet conference room and/or a room in your home.
- Take a few deep breaths and set an intention before you start.
- Be fully present — turn off notifications (phone and computer), put your phone on vibrate (once you start the call), and turn off your monitor or anything else that might distract you.
- Ask them to tell you more about the role first before you go through your background so you can hit on the major points that are relevant to you.
- Ask clarifying questions (don’t make assumptions).
- Take brief notes (you can elaborate on them afterward).
- Be an active listener! Don’t disrupt the interviewer.
- Ask thoughtful questions such as “What are the top priorities for the team/company this year?” “What kind of person is successful at the company?” “What does success look like for this role?” “What do you like most about the company and what do you find most challenging?”
Write down all the key points from the call including information about the role, team and company, salary, etc. Also list the questions they asked you and you asked them. Write what you did well and what you can improve on next time. Every interview is a good learning opportunity.
Write a personalized thank you email and send later that day, evening or the following day.
Connect via LinkedIn. Many people will accept your invitation once they’ve met with you.
When you employ these best practices, you’ll ace your screen and advance to the next step. Next week I’ll cover tips for the interview loop including the most common behavioral questions.
Are you looking for help in your job search to land a job that you’ll love and thrive in?
If so, then watch our video and book a session with one of our job strategists. We’re excited to learn about your career goals and share insights.